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Election night: A hard working woman – who once before had been defeated in a bid for a seat at the table – won election as the highest leader in the land in a landslide victory.
Along with her win, smart, thoughtful, forward-thinking people swept the rest of the electorate out of office. Not a single incumbent was left standing. Many had been elected during times of turmoil.
However, the citizens of Clintonville, Wisconsin were ready to move on.
On Tuesday, April 5, 2016, as I sat on the couch watching some mundane television program, my Facebook instant messenger popped open.
“I won! 879-386!”
The message was from Lois Bressette, the then-newly-elected mayor of Clintonville. The same Lois Bressette who sat next to me in creative writing class during my junior and senior year in high school in Marquette, Michigan from 1979 to 1981. We didn’t stay in touch after high school, but reconnected on Facebook a few years ago. As I began to read her posts and we responded to one another, I began to feel there was a kindred connection that neither of us realized back in high school where I was the Chatty Cathy and she was a good listener.
I am still a Chatty Cathy and, quite frankly, that has probably gotten me into more trouble than any mouth should. Lois is still a good listener and look at where that has gotten her: It has helped her become a leader in her community.
As Lois and I exchanged a few hurried messages on election night back in April, she shared with me the fact that all of the incumbent city council members had been swept out of office – except for her – and newly elected officials would replace them. I asked her if this would be good for her community and she confirmed that yes, this change would present Clintonville with a fresh start.
I sat there and re-read what she wrote to me. It was optimistic. The citizens of a small community in rural Wisconsin had watched the adventures of small-town politics play out over the previous two years. They took a look at who was running for office – both incumbents and their opponents – and determined that it was time to promote Bressette, who had been serving as acting mayor since the last elected mayor became ill – and they were wise enough to provide her with the support of a fresh-faced and forward-thinking council with which to work.
And just like that, I felt relieved. Maybe there was hope for our national election in the fall, after all.
And just like that, I saw the irony. There I sat foreshadowing the results of a national election still seven months away based on, of all things, a local election in a town called Clintonville.
Oh, the irony.
Bressette’s road to serving in public office was a long and twisty one.
A native of Marquette, she graduated with me from Marquette Senior High School in 1981 and then from Northern Michigan University (NMU), also in Marquette, in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in health education.
It was during a stint working for the Western Upper Peninsula (U.P.) District Health Department in the late 1990s that Bressette first became interested in public policy. As a part of her job, she became involved in the U.P.-wide Tobacco-Free Coalition. The state of Michigan – now smoke free – was in the early stages of introducing such possibilities via various community groups.
The development of policy fascinated Bressette so much so that she decided to return to NMU to earn a master’s degree in public administration. That meant commuting back and forth two hours one way from her home in Houghton to the Marquette campus.
According to Bressette, it was worth every minute.
“If you have this dream, you have to do whatever you have to do to accomplish this dream,” she said reflectively of her time on the road in pursuit of that master’s degree. “I trusted the process that I needed to do to finish my master’s degree.”
She was inspired from the beginning by Robert Kulischeck, Ph.d, a now-retired member of the political science department at NMU.
As she neared the end of her master’s studies, Bressette was laid off from her job. While to many that might cause a panic, her unexpected change in life opened her to experiencing other opportunities. When Dr. Kulischeck suggested she take an internship with the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., she jumped at the chance.
“I just had to go to Washington.”
She’s been politically aware and active ever since.
It was 2003 when Bressette first moved to Clintonville with her husband, Jeff, when he accepted a teaching position at Clintonville High School. By 2011, she ran – unopposed – for a seat on the city council and was elected.
Two years later, she ran for her seat with opposition and lost – by just seven votes.
That loss was tough. What if she had knocked on just one more door? What if she had kissed just one more baby?
But this is Clintonville, where the tough do not get knocked down. In Clintonville, they jump back up, dust themselves off, and they look for the opportunity to prove themselves once again.
Bressette did just that. When the community found itself in an uproar regarding some local political issues in 2014, a recall campaign was held to unseat the man who had beaten her in the general election. She ran against him again and this time, she won.
Clintonville, Wisconsin is located in the heart of Packer country just 42 miles west of Green Bay. Its municipal website boasts a current population of 4,521. Founded in 1855, the community is proud of its aeronautical heritage – it is the birthplace of Wisconsin Central Airlines, which, after many mergers over the years, is now a part of Delta Air Lines.
Its industrial park houses close to 10 manufacturers with national and international appeal. The city maintains both community and neighborhood-based parks. Located on the shores of inland Pigeon Lake, the city also maintains boat landings and along with that boating, fishing and swimming opportunities.
It is a crossroads community with the intersections of U.S. 45, Wisconsin 156 and Wisconsin 22 located within the city.
Politically, though, like much of the country, Clintonville appears to be at a crossroads, as well. According to public records for the 2012 presidential election, Clintonville residents reflect much of what was reflected in the rest of the nation: a community divided, almost right down the middle.
In 2012, 1,909 people in Clintonville cast votes for president of the United States. Mitt Romney eked out Barack Obama by just 81 votes.
This past spring, in the April 5 primary, 745 Republicans voted, with Ted Cruz barely edging out Donald Trump, 378 to 354. The only other two of all 12 Republican candidates to hit double digits here were John Kasich with 65 votes and Marco Rubio with 12.
With 468 Democrats voting, Bernie Sanders easily beat Hillary Clinton, 323 to 209 (http://www.clintonvillewi.org/voting.htm).
My guess is that, come Tuesday, November 6, this might very well be Trump country.
But then again, maybe not.
The Clintonville 2012 presidential election results give me great hope for this nation come Tuesday. Though Mitt Romney, ultimately, beat Barack Obama, it was close. That shows me that Clintonville sees a lot of value in a progressive candidate.
Clintonville, Wisconsin and its hard-working residents take great pride in their community and the lives they are able to lead by going to work every day and creating a good life for their families.
I believe that when they voted my friend, Lois Bressette, into office as their mayor last spring, they did so after watching a couple of local political cycles that went haywire. They were smart enough to stop and say, “Hey there. This is our community and we want the very brightest and they very best helping us to run the community.” They wanted someone who would listen to their concerns – just as Lois Bressette has been listening to others throughout her life, beginning long before she had to listen to her Chatty Cathy friend in creative writing class in 11th and 12th grade – and who would dig in and help create policy that would move the community forward.
Bressette’s good listening skills and dig-in-and-get-the-work-done attitude is reflective of Senator Hillary Clinton, according to her colleagues on both sides of the aisle (http://www.npr.org/2016/04/28/476060514/hillary-clintons-senate-years-provide-insight-into-how-she-might-govern).
So the good citizens of Clintonville elected, as their mayor, Bressette, the self-proclaimed “policy wonk” who understands the importance of rolling up her sleeves and digging in to get the hard work done on behalf of the citizens who are counting on her.
This provides me with hope – for both Clintonville and for our nation – that when push comes to shove, the smart people of our nation vote with their conscience and they do the right thing, even in an election year when it sometimes feels like the “choice” isn’t much of a choice at all.
And I’m hoping that, come the morning of Wednesday, November 9, Clintonville, Wisconsin can rejoice in the fact that its name is reflective of the first female president elected as president of the United States of America.